Historically, when Wal-Mart, "The world's largest retailer," has entered a community, the local
businesses in it have suffered. In many cases, local businesses have been forced to close because
they were unable to compete against this retail giant. With its sheer size and tremendous buying
power, Sam Walton's creation is able to sell goods far below prices that local merchants can
afford to charge. Consequently, Wal-Mart gobbles up trade from small local stores, grows fatter
and larger, draws from a wide trade area, and does all this at the expense of smaller businesses.
This not only benefits Wal-Mart, but the local consumer as well who can now buy goods cheaper
from the big retailer than he can from local merchants. Thus, by taking his business to Wal-Mart,
the consumer gets what he wants from a larger variety of goods and at a cheaper price.
There is a similar strategy now employed in the church that is having the same effect in a spiritual sense upon small congregations. The Wal-Mart syndrome says "bigger is better" and is primarily concerned with the bottom line — customers and the dollars they spend. That is also the philosophy that drives many larger congregations these days.
In our little corner of the world, out here in Western Oklahoma, there are a number of small congregations which have ceased to exist in the last couple of decades, and a few others which are in danger of dying. A lot of this has been brought on by a concern for the "bottom line" in larger area churches who "lure" members away from the smaller congregations in an unashamed effort at proselyting.
There was a time when congregations in larger towns would assist smaller sister congregations with preaching the gospel in their communities. But that day has passed for many of them. While the larger churches offer perfunctory aid to overseas efforts, they are neglecting and actually promoting the decline of small congregations in their own back yard.
In one bulletin from a large congregation in our part of the country, there was a recent announcement of a family placing membership with this church. What caught our eye was the family's address. They live in a small town with a small, struggling congregation that is about 30 miles distant from this large congregation. Not only that, but this family had to drive past at least two other small to medium sized congregations to get to the one where they placed their membership.
One wonders if the larger churches, which are gobbling up members from the smaller ones, are really concerned about souls in a wide region or if they just want to fill pews and bank accounts. Do these larger congregations ever counsel those folks to stay where they are and help build up the church in their communities? Do these larger congregations ever offer to financially support efforts in their own back yards, as they do those in South America or Asia?
This strategy benefits not only the large church but the "spiritual" consumer as well. When the lukewarm Christian decides he's had enough of the small town church, he may begin looking for some place where he can be a "member" but not have a lot required of him. In many instances, he may suffer from the "Judas Syndrome." That's the one where he shops for religion and, as Judas asked the priests, he asks big churches, "What will ye give me?" Those folks are just that — consumers. They aren't looking to deny themselves as Jesus enjoined (Matt. 16:24), but are rather seeking a convenient religion that "gets" instead of "gives."
And, like Wal-Mart, the bigger area churches offer a wider selection at cheaper prices which satisfy the religious "consumer." Commuting members can surreptitiously slide in for an hour on Sunday morning and go their own ways the rest of the week without even being missed. The elders won't bother to check on them because they live too far away. They can have their "membership" in the large church, drop in a few dollars a week and not have members "breathing down their necks." What an ideal situation for pre-backsliders!
Like Wal-Mart, the larger church also benefits. The members they attract from smaller churches may not give a lot of money, but they make it up on volume, and have all those pews filled on Sunday morning. After all, ten families from surrounding small congregations, giving $10 a week adds up to $100 more for the church's treasury. That means while the small churches in the area are in their death throes, the larger churches will be able to send an extra $25 to someone in Saipan.